Motorcycle courier, bookbinder, English as a second language teacher, telephonist, wife and mother – Heather Provan calls herself a ‘Jill of all trades’. Shipmate is the latest role the ‘70-plus’ year-old with a thirst for adventure has added to her repertoire of experiences. Not satisfied with anything dull and routine, Mrs Provan’s most recent undertaking sees her volunteering on the crew of the world’s largest civilian hospital ship – the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy.
This is the second tour-of-duty for Mrs Provan on the Mercy Ship which provides free essential surgery to people in poverty on Africa’s West Coast. She is aboard for three months working in the hospital ship’s laundry. ‘I am a very small cog in a huge organisation, but without the small cogs working efficiently the hospital wouldn’t be possible,’ she explains.
This is the second time Mrs Provan has volunteered on board – last year she served in the dining room team 6 weeks. This year her voluntary work saw her fly into Cameroon, West Africa towards the end of the vessel’s field service.
During that 10 months in Cameroon, the Mercy Ship had provided 2,746 essential surgeries with rehabilitation services, treated more than 10,000 dental patients, and invested in the local health care structure with 1,475 local people attending Medical Capacity Building courses participants.
‘The ship is completely run on donations and by volunteer workers,’ she describes. ‘I work with people from many nations, different cultures and languages – all working in harmony,’
As the Mercy Ship was due to enter a maintenance period in the Canary Islands during her service period Mrs Provan was also able to enjoy time at sea. She had the unusual nautical experience of sailing through the Prime Meridian, crossing the Equator at 0,0. ‘Not just any old bit of the Equator,’ she states, now able to claim the title of Royal Diamond Shellback for the rare feat, with a certificate to prove it.
With support from Mahurangi Presbyterian Church, Mrs Provan will continue her volunteer work through the maintenance period in The Canary Islands, the return sea voyage to Africa, and conclude after the vessel has arrived in the new field service location of Guinea.
‘This experience satisfies my desire to help others and has given me amazing experiences and adventures,’ she reflects. ‘I feel each day is a gift from God and I must make the most of it. God is still teaching me. He has given me such blessings during my lifetime; I want to be a blessing to others who are less fortunate.’